Within political circles, it is widely recognized that the perception of political power is the largest component of political power itself.
Nowhere is this more true than in the case of leaders claiming to speak on behalf of large ethnic minority or immigrant groups, whose true views on many issues are often opaque or even mysterious to members of the political establishment. People may doubt that the self-styled community leader truly represents that community, but since they can’t be sure of the contrary either, they tend to avoid taking risks. Discretion is frequently the only part of valor within the political world.
Consider the case of Nativo Lopez, who one week ago might reasonably have been regarded as the single most powerful Latino ethnic activist holding elective office anywhere within California. His powerbase—the Santa Ana School Board—might appear obscure, his vote totals numbered in the thousands rather than the millions, and he was hardly a household name among the general public. But he claimed to speak for a rising political tide of millions of Latino immigrants in Southern California, and few felt sufficiently self-confident to contest that claim.
Thus, when Lopez demonstrated his annoyance at California Gov. Gray Davis by running a series of radio spots denouncing the governor as a “f—– little white man,” the governor and his chief political gun-slinger Garry South, normally as tough and vindictive a pair as can be found anywhere in America, quietly chose to turn the other cheek.
Since most Latino politicians themselves regard California’s vast sea of recent immigrants—which constitutes the basis of their own claim to political power—with almost the same degree of awe and uncertainty as do their Anglo colleagues, they, too, steered well clear of the terrifying Mr. Lopez, for fear that an adverse word from him might completely doom their future chances with future registered voters.
And until very recently, it fell to the leftist OC Weekly—sharing ownership and ideology with its Village Voice and LA Weekly siblings—to shine any light whatsoever on the outrageous business dealings and ethical violations of Lopez and his cronies, who poured millions of public dollars into the pockets of their business allies and exacted corresponding tithes from these same recipients in exchange.
Lopez freely denounce his leading local newspaper, the 400,000 circulation Orange County Register, as “racially biased” and therefore refused all interviews. In retaliation, that conservative paper regularly accorded him coverage that the leftist OC Weekly ridiculed as absurdly softball. The effectiveness of mau-mauing the flak-catchers seems not to have vanished with the tie-dyed shirts of the 1960s.
Thus, it was hardly surprising that on the Sunday before the Tuesday recall vote, the establishment voice of the Los Angeles Times editorial page carried a strong denunciation of the anti-Lopez drive, which it characterized as “tainted,” and urged voters to save Lopez with a No vote. Cataloging the long list of his misdeeds and failings, his guilty pleas to federal lawsuits and the hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and penalties paid, the editorial surprisingly argued there was no solid evidence warranting his removal from office.
On that very same day, Santa Ana’s well-regarded Mexican-American Superintendent, Al Mijares, hitherto assumed to be a Lopez loyalist, published a blistering attack on the man and his allies, denouncing them as “cancerous cells” whose “horrific ethnic violations” involved paying millions of educational dollars to their unqualified friends, thereby severely damaging the schooling conditions of Santa Ana’s 60,000 students, over 90% of whom were Latino.
Two days later, Lopez was replaced by an Anglo Republican, losing by an astonishing forty point margin.
As analysts began to realize that Lopez had suffered a crushing defeat across all precincts and neighborhoods, affluent and impoverished, Anglo and Latino, previously-known facts suddenly began to acquire completely different interpretations.
Just seven days after endorsing Mr. Lopez’s retention, the editorial page of the Los Angeles Times suddenly suggested that his mere removal from office was completely insufficient to remove the stench of his misdeeds, and instead urged the Orange County Grand Jury to begin a thorough investigation, with an eye towards bringing criminal charges.
Far more consistent were the commentaries by editorialist Steven Greenhut of the conservative Orange County Register and liberal Times Columnist Dana Parsons, both of whom agreed that Lopez’s crushing defeat may mark a historic—and enormously positive—turning point in the sometimes troubled relations between Anglos and
Latinos in Orange County, now evenly divided between these two ethnic populations.
And to the extent that both the conservative Washington Times, the liberal NPR, and the leftist OC Weekly had all characterized the approaching vote as a decisive battle between my own views on bilingual education and other assimilationist issues and those of the formidable Nativo Lopez, a battle for the hearts and minds of Latino immigrants in America’s most heavily Spanish-speaking Latino immigrant city—well, the result
of that particular contest now seem absolutely clear.
Or as Dan Weintraub, one of the Sacramento Bee’s top political columnists, more succinctly put it in the headline on his column this morning: “Santa Ana’s Parents Revolt in Favor of English.”
I attach a few of the relevant news stories for your examination.
- Santa Ana’s parents revolt in favor of English
Sacramento Bee, Tuesday, February 11, 2003
- Dispute over bilingual education in Santa Ana, California
National Public Radio, Tuesday, February 4, 2003
- Lopez recall might be a watershed by Steven Greenhut
Orange County Register, Sunday, February 9, 2003
- Palacio: Are They (Re)Calling His Name? by Dana Parsons
Los Angeles Times (Orange County), Friday, February 7, 2003
- Bilingual education, race to collide in California recall
Washington Times, Tuesday, January 28, 2003
- Nativo Slayer by Gustavo Arellano
OC Weekly, Friday, January 17, 2003